Butterfly Weed – Asclepias tuberosa

Overall At-Risk Score: 41

Latin name:

Asclepias tuberosa

Common name:

Butterfly Weed/Butterfly Milkweed, Chigger Weed, Orange Milkweed, Pleurisy Root

Family:

Apocynaceae (Dogbane family)

Lifespan:

Perennial

Reproduction:

The seeds grow in pods called follicles, which begin to form in late summer. These seeds are attached to a plume of small white hairs that allow them to travel on the wind.

Geographic region:

Butterfly Weed can be found in parts of every state in the continental U.S. except for Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. It is also found in the Canadian Provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

Habitat:

Butterfly Weed thrives in open woods and grasslands and prefers dry, well-drained soil.

Ability to withstand disturbance and over harvest:

The Butterfly Weed’s deep taproot is essential to its survival, and it can’t handle being transferred or cut off from its roots well.

Status of Endangered/Threatened (by state):

Asclepias tuberosa is listed as “Possibly Extirpated” in Maine, “Endangered” in New Hampshire, “Exploitably Vulnerable” in New York, of “Special Concern” in Rhode Island, and “Threatened” in Vermont.

Asclepias tuberosa has not yet been evaluated by the IUCN Red List.

Part of Plant Used/Active Medicinal Compounds:

It has been suggested that various parts of Butterfly Weed have potential being used as a diuretic, a contraceptive, and as a treatment for snake bites. The roots of the Butterfly Weed have historically been used in an attempt to help treat pleurisy and other pulmonary issues, a practice that is still continued by some today.

Please note that many parts of Butterfly Milkweed are poisonous, and United Plant Savers is in no way offering any form of medical advice.

Wild Harvesting Impact on Other Species and Lookalikes:

As the name implies, Butterfly Weed—as with all milkweed—is a critical plant for already endangered or at-risk pollinators such as butterflies and bees. Milkweed is needed for Monarch Butterflies to lay their eggs, and it is the only plant that Monarch caterpillars can eat.

Recommendations for industrial and home use:

If you live in one of the 43 states or two provinces where Butterfly Weed is native, consider planting some seeds in your yard or garden. They require relatively little maintenance, and their lovely orange blooms are sure to attract butterflies and other pollinators to your yard.

Further Reading:

Though not specific to Asclepias tuberosa, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation released an in-depth report on the subject, titled Milkweeds: A Conservation Practitioner’s Guide, that includes advice on how you can help support Butterfly Weed from your own backyard.

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